Willamette University

Tidbits & Briefs

WU Welcomes Dennis Bergvall, Vice President for Advancement


Plenty of alumni have already met Bergvall, who arrived last fall to lead the development, alumni and parent relations (which includes The Scene), and marketing communications offices. He comes to us from The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., where he exceeded the institution’s $100 million campaign goal by 8 percent and moved a lot of other needles in the right direction. He’s a Whitman grad, but we’ll forgive him for that.

So, you’ve worked all over the country. Why Willamette?

Three reasons. The first was reputation. Willamette is known for the quality of its educational experience, the dedication of its faculty and outstanding graduates. I wanted to be part of that experience. The second was location. This opportunity has brought me back to the best corner of the country. The Northwest was not only where our adult children and grandchildren live but where our hearts and values belonged. This position gave us a chance to come home.

The third reason is potential. Willamette is a place where I believe I can make an impact. Developing a culture of philanthropy and building a successful development program are not new to me. An institution this good deserves to be in command of its future. Financial stability is not the only ingredient, but few great schools become excellent without successful fundraising.

Describe your role and what advancement does for the university.

Some would say that advancement is just the newest euphemism for development or fundraising, and that’s not necessarily incorrect. Yet the departments that comprise it here aren’t just stacked together for an org. chart; they integrate how and why we maintain relationships with our key constituents. That requires programming, communication and contact programs, sustaining brand identity and assuring loyalty and support that sometimes is translated into financial support.

What’s a misconception about donating to Willamette that you’d clear up?

That Willamette only seeks or appreciates the gifts of big donors. All gifts matter and WU is dependent upon support from all levels.

Graduates often think that they must wait to start making contributions back to Willamette until they can write a certain size check. Or worse, that they have to wait until their loans are all paid off. We welcome all contributions, not only because they represent a substantial part of the budget, but because the rate of alumni giving is a factor in grant proposals and rankings. Foundations question supporting schools with a low alumni “participation rate,” and U.S. News uses this figure within its college rating system. Small gifts, such as $5 or $20 from a recent graduate, help.

Where do your own philanthropic dollars go?

I believe it’s important to lead by example. After support for our church, our largest gifts go to Willamette. On my second day at work, I happily became a Leadership Circle donor. Investing in Willamette’s future is a good bet.

For more, or to show your support, visit willamette.edu/support.

The Bearcat's Dilemma

Joel Salatin

Farmer Joel Salatin believes our country’s food system is in a state of crisis — from nutrient deficiency to pollution to animal abuse to rural economic decay — and that all of these issues can be solved by one thing: local food.

It’s not a surprising statement from the self-described “lunatic farmer” whose roles in Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and the film, “Food, Inc.,” have turned him into one of the most prominent spokespeople for the local and sustainable food movements.

Salatin brings his ideas to Willamette Feb. 12 when he delivers the 2013 Dempsey Lecture.

Salatin’s family-run Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley uses alternative practices — including chicken tractors and pasture-fed “salad bar beef” — that have become a model for sustainable farmers across the country. Polyface serves more than 10 retail outlets, 3,000 families and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs.

“Most of the things that I do or say are considered lunacy by the conventional agriculture community,” Salatin says. “We’re a nation which is well-fed but undernourished. We lead the world in obesity, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and a host of other chronic maladies. Clearly it’s not just a matter of bins and bushels and volume, it’s a matter of nutrient density and food quality. Those are things our conventional system doesn’t even consider.”

Even regions like the Willamette Valley, known for its thriving sustainable and local agriculture communities, have room for improvement, Salatin says.

“I haven’t been any place in the U.S. where 95 percent of the food produced there isn’t exported first and then reimported,” he says. “We should be growing it here, processing it here and eating it here. If you think the current food system — 1,500 miles between farmer and plate, gluten intolerance, factory farming, reduced aquifers, manure waste pollution and other maladies — if you think all of that is just wonderful, then don’t come to my lecture. But if you care about any of that, and that’s not the kind of world you want your children to inherit, then I want you to come.”

To learn more about the Dempsey Lecture Series, visit


Andrew Sullivan

Renowned political/social commentator Andrew Sullivan is a self-described conservative, but he’s no Republican. Or is he?

His Feb. 26 Atkinson Lecture Series talk will address conservatism and homosexuality. Titled “Knowing (and Loving) Thine Enemy: Gays, Conservatives and Common Ground,” his lecture will introduce thoughtful — maybe striking — solutions in a conversation that many in the United States see as an ideological impasse.

“Gays are fully part of our world and it is conservative to integrate them into mainstream society — through marriage equality and full access to military service,” Sullivan writes. “Such reforms contribute to the conservative values of family, personal responsibility, mutual support, and service to a greater good. There is no contradiction here.”

Sullivan is a practicing Catholic and author of five books. His landmark work, “Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality,” challenges church doctrine on gay life and helped frame the nation’s discourse about gay marriage.

Before becoming editor in chief of The New Republic, a columnist for TIME and senior editor of The Atlantic, Sullivan earned a master’s and doctorate at Harvard. Adweek named him Editor of the Year, and his writing earned two National Magazine Awards.

A Newsweek and Daily Beast contributor, Sullivan was one of the first journalists to experiment with blogging, writing 250 to 300 posts per week for “The Dish.” The posts include his incisive analysis and observations about politics, sociocultural issues, foreign affairs and religion, reaching some 1.3 million subscribers.

In January, Sullivan announced he’s leaving the Beast to publish a blog supported solely through reader subscriptions. Bloggers and other journalists are watching closely to see if Sullivan’s “declaration of independence” will succeed.

To learn more about the Atkinson Lecture Series, visit

Reporting by Sarah Evans, Adam Torgerson and Erik Schmidt ‘05

Sparks Athletic Center Renovation: The Heavy Lifting Begins


Coaches and students are starting to talk about it in the hallways.

Fueled by early gifts from parents, foundations and alumni — including a $3 million leadership matching challenge from an anonymous alumni family — the Sparks Athletic Center renovation has inched closer to reality.

The changes to the building won’t significantly expand its footprint, but they will fundamentally change how the space is used and how many people will be served.

In one of several possible designs, largely unused racquetball courts and hallway space will be used for more resistance, cardio and power lifting stations, alleviating what is probably the building’s most obvious need: workout space. Other refinements will include improvements to locker rooms, the sports medicine center, and academic spaces.

Construction is expected to start in the summer, but the project won’t be complete without more help from donors. To learn more or get involved, visit willamette.edu/athletics/facilities/sparks_renovation.

For the most up-to-date Willamette news and events, remember to check your email inbox each month for "WU News", our electronic newsletter. Not receiving it? Just email us: alumni@willamette.edu.

Also, remember Facebook: facebook.com/willamettealumni.